Improving your SSB contesting skills                                                   Chris GM3WOJ - August 2017

Unlike CW which has to be learned, everyone who can speak can be an SSB operator. Unfortunately some ops. think that is the only criteria necessary, or that they 'don't have anything to learn' when it comes to SSB contest operating - wrong!  I learn something new in every contest I enter - even if it is 'I don't like this contest', hi.

During the 1990s we did a series of Multi-Multi SSB contests (as GM6V then GM7V) from my home QTH. I found it very interesting to stand behind visiting ops. and observe whether or not they took on board the advice you gave them. Generally speaking, if the operator understood the reasoning behind the advice, they would adopt it - otherwise they would quickly revert to their old habits. I came to the conclusion that it is actually quite difficult to 'unlearn' poor SSB operating habits, which everyone probably starts off with.

SSB contest operating has, like CW operating, speeded up in the last 10 years. The top operators have reduced what they say to the minimum necessary to complete the QSO speedily and efficiently. Here is a (somewhat extreme) example of a CQ WW SSB QSO where P33W is running a pile-up:

P33W :  Papa Three Three Whisky           no need for 'CQ contest' or anything else

GM7V :  Golf Mike Seven Victor

P33W :  GM7V 59 20                                  no need for phonetics

GM7V:   59 14

P33W :  Papa Three Three Whisky           'thanks' and 'QRZ' are implied (!)

A common mistake is to slow down or slow the rhythm of your CQs when there are no stations calling - don't. Yes you might wait a while between replies to your calls (consider doing some S&P, changing band, etc if it's really slow) - but continuing to CQ and make QSOs at as fast a rate as possible will give you a better score.

Another common misconception (not so much nowadays) is that it is somehow 'impolite' to complete QSOs quickly - wrong! Contests are won or lost by how many QSOs you make and how many multipliers you work in a given time, so operating speedily benefits everyone.

Here in the UK it can be difficult to be on the 'receiving end' of a pile-up, something that is essential for building up your skill. Consider running a special event station or entering an SSB contest where UK stations are multipliers e.g. the UKEICC DX SSB contest (30th Sept/1st Oct 2017) or the new RSGB DX contest (8th Oct 2017)

Some hints about improving your SSB operating ....

1.  Practise your typing skills (this will be very useful for any type of contesting)  Practice typing the callsign and report accurately into the logging software and also practice correcting errors quickly.

2.  Speak faster!  Sounds a bit silly, but it works. If things are slow, keep speaking quickly.

3.  Avoid *any* unnecessary words. Don't use five words where one is enough. Avoid such worthless phrases as 'good luck in the contest', etc.  (If it is a friend calling of course, say what you like to them)

4. If running a pile-up, *always* reply to one station every time - even if you have only 2 or 3 letters of their callsign - send the partial call and their report immediately. Avoid saying 'again' if possible (inexperienced ops. often say 'again' to buy themselves some time)

5.  The single word 'thanks' is the best way to finish a QSO - it means 'I have all your info correctly logged, thanks for the QSO, QRZ' all rolled into one single word.

6.  Sound enthusiastic and efficient - again you might wonder why this is suggested, but try listening to some tired SSB ops - they sound bored and you think 'I'll not bother calling this station'. Stations waiting to call you must have some expectation that they will get through eventually.

7.  Using a DVK to call CQ (or give the exchange) to rest your voice during quiet periods is fine, but if you are using a DVK to CQ you are not making QSOs - consider doing something else more productive.

8.  Think about / vary any phonetics you use. Some phonetics are 'soft' e.g. Golf whereas others are more effective.

9.  Practice in low stress contests. Don't bother sending in an entry unless you want to. You could even just tune around and listen to a station running a pile-up on SSB. The more contests you do, the more callsigns you will recognise and you will build up an 'internal SCP'. Try to memorise the whole callsign, not just the prefix or suffix.

10.  If you have a friend who is a speedy SSB operator, ask to sit with them in the next contest they enter and listen to the received audio - you could even try some local 'partner mode' if they are using WinTest - this is great fun and good practice.

11.  Listen to some of the online audio from top SSB ops. in action e.g. N5TJ, K9PG etc. - note how they achieve a serious QSO rate, but don't sound very stressed and take time to say 'hello' occasionally. They also often don't use phonetics when replying to stations - 95% of calling stations will recognise their own callsign without phonetics.

12.  Concentrate on the QSOs - no-one is impressed if you can send text messages, etc. while operating - avoid distractions. Concentrate 100% on making the SSB QSOs and logging them as accurately as possible.

13.  One thing I do is turn the transceiver's monitor audio down to a fairly low level. Our ears/brain have AGC which can cope with a 120dB range (apparently) but I find that the low level monitor audio is less tiring and keeps my ears ready for weaker signals. However on SSB, listening to the monitor helps to prevent you shouting (important in a Multi-op situation) and tiring your voice too much.

14.  Practising is the best thing you can do.....

73   Chris  GM3WOJ